Beckett ready to make necessary adjustments
Josh Beckett's career is in transition.
The Dodgers right-hander is adjusting to reduced fastball velocity and relying on needing to make quality pitches to hitters he has never faced. He's adjusting to a new league, different players and different ballparks.
Emotionally, Beckett certainly appears to be up to the task. He seems to relish the challenge.
I had an opportunity to speak with Beckett in the Dodgers clubhouse during the team's recent visit to Arizona.
I found Beckett to be very humble, very excited about the future and very confident about his ability, and the ability of his new teammates.
If Beckett has lost a step in his competitive giddy-up, or if he's shifted to a slower gear, somebody forgot to tell him. He's motivated to succeed. He feels he's on a talented team that will scrap its way to a postseason berth.
After realizing success as an integral part of the 2003 Marlins and '07 Red Sox, who both won World Series titles, Beckett saw his baseball life change with one August phone call.
Boston seized the opportunity to acquire quality prospects from Los Angeles. In a bold trade, the Red Sox and Dodgers changed the faces of their franchises.
The Red Sox traded outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, infielder Nick Punto and Beckett to the Dodgers for first baseman James Loney, pitching prospect Allen Webster, infield prospect Ivan DeJesus and two players to be named. It was a trade that shocked the baseball world.
Overnight, two franchises were transformed for the here and now, for tomorrow, the next day and months and years to come.
The trade highlighted the fact that Beckett needs to make adjustments. He shared that fact in our discussion.
Having turned 32 in May, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Beckett remains confident in his pitching abilities. However, he is a realist.
I asked Beckett about adjusting to the new environment of the National League.
"I have to execute pitches," Beckett said. "The batter is still 60 feet, six inches away. I don't have the same stuff I once had."
I found that very telling.
There are pitchers and players who never admit they have lost some heat on their fastball or a step running from home to first. Beckett is a realist.
"I have to make quality pitches," he said. "I have to adjust to giving up more hits. I have to understand there will be more men on first."
Welcome to reality.
Beckett is a proud man. He is well aware that the baseball world had doubts about his performance this season leading to the trade.
"We have a talented team here," Beckett said of the Dodgers. "We're in a real fight. I always heard that I would have to make adjustments. That's what I'm doing."
Frankly, I hadn't imagined Beckett acknowledging he doesn't have the same stuff he once had. He realizes he isn't a power pitcher anymore. He has to rely on a deep repertoire.
As an example of the importance of making good pitches, Beckett referenced the game that left-handed teammate Clayton Kershaw threw against the D-backs the previous evening. Kershaw made one bad pitch. He hung a slider to Miguel Montero with a runner on first in a scoreless game. Montero slammed the ball into the right field wall to drive in the only run of the game.
"Sometimes, it's only one pitch," Beckett said. "You can pitch a great game, make a mistake and lose."
Beckett won 20 games once in his career, in 2007. That year, he had an ERA of 3.27. He finished second behind CC Sabathia in voting for the the AL Cy Young Award. It was a fantastic season. The Red Sox were on top of the world. Beckett was the centerpiece of an event some in Red Sox Nation had waited a lifetime to experience.
But even the excitement of a World Series championship can lose some glow with time.
The rocket that launched the Red Sox to the stratosphere of baseball ultimately developed some cracks in its foundation and came tumbling back to earth.
A three-time All-Star, Beckett was selected by the Marlins in the first round -- No. 2 overall -- of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft as a high school player out of Spring High School in Spring, Texas.
Beckett is more often remembered as an integral part of Boston's rotation than for his days with the Marlins. But he threw 609 innings as a member of the Marlins, beginning in 2001, when he was just 21 years old. The right-hander won 18 games before being traded to Boston in November 2005.
The Dodgers are hoping Beckett can add stability and a veteran presence to their pitching staff. They are on a path to the playoffs, and every game is critical.
Beckett is well aware that the baseball world is watching.
Beckett has something to prove to baseball fans, to teammates -- both former and present -- to baseball executives, to critics and to himself.
Curious eyes are watching the new Dodgers veterans acquired for prospects.
They are watching to see if a collection of talented star players can bring victory to a Dodgers club that has been hovering among the leaders of the National League West all season. They are watching to see if the high-profile guys can close the deal.
And they are especially watching Beckett. Mentally and emotionally, he's ready for them.
But is the "stuff" still there? We'll soon find out.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.